A reminder of a letter I once wrote -
The Transport Select Committee
House of Commons
Date as postmark
An open letter
Dear Transport Select Committee
Hi guys, its me again – I better point out, this letter is from me and not the National Taxi Association (it’s an old chestnut I need to establish early in all correspondence).
There’s a few words I think you all need to learn, ‘hoodwinked’ is one, ‘conned’ is another, ‘duped’ is up there, ‘tricked’ would fit, ‘scammed’ will have people laughing, ‘deceived’ is accurate, ‘misled’ even more so and I could go on.
I have a question, true, it’s the first of a good few, but we got to start somewhere.
Is it illegal to tell fibs to you people?
You see, some of the things that have been both written to you, and some of the things you’ve been told orally, appear to be half truths at best and blatant lies at worst, but more of this later.
I don't even know if you still want to talk to me, especially after how you were treated in the February issue of taxitalk. You do however appear to be speaking to others, and reading what they wrote, they were far more insulting than me, because whilst I may have alluded to you all being completely whacko, they actually insulted your intelligence.
Listen, can I be frank here? Inviting the people you did to talk to you in sessions 1 and 2 just ain't gonna cut the mustard. I’ve read and watched their responses and all but a couple appear to be quite mental, working to their own equally selfish and stupid agendas – looking to save their own worthless hides – so to speak. To be honest you appear to have invited a bunch of self-promoting , self-trumpeting crow’s, chancer’s and opportunists.
If it’s ego’s you want, how on earth did you miss me?
It would appear some people tend to namedrop with you guys, well, I’m sorry, I never met Glenda Jackson, but I did once have Edward Woodward in the back of my cab and he was the equaliser for christs sake!
It’s a matter of some amusement in the 1800’s, a gentleman by the name of Robert Coates, an actor of pitiful quality but a gratuitous self promoter, adopted the motif of a crowing cock and the motto “While I live, I'll crow”, he died in 1848 in a street accident, when a Hansom cab hit him – how bizarre is that?
But I digress.
I’m sorry to tell you this, but some people seem to think you are all a bunch of idiots, they’re pulling the wool over your eyes faster than a Cumbrian shepherd on speed.
London’s licensing system is being held up there by some like the proverbial beacon. The rest of the country should follow London’s leading light out of the dark ages. I have to tell you now, that’s a crock.
It actually took London some 22 years to catch up with the rest of the country with licensed private hire.
London is the true number one here, its number one in minicab rapes and number one in sexual assaults.
Indeed, if you go to ‘the havens’ website (http://www.thehavens.co.uk/
) you will learn that 140 woman were raped in illegal minicabs in London alone last year, although the police suggest there were actually 254 sexual assaults and a further 54 rapes. Although they quibble over numbers, the figures are about 1 per day, to me, that seems like an awful lot.
I’m also sure you will be aware of the words of Recorder Michael Sayers, QC; "It appears that nobody can travel in minicabs with any degree of assurance or safety, as demonstrated by the facts in this case,"
Further to this if we are being told of London’s high standards the how did Razaq Assadullah, from Plaistow, East London, set himself up as a minicab driver by buying a false driving licence for £200 and using a false name. Further inquiries into the rapist's firm Speedline Cars revealed that each of its 32 drivers was working illegally in some way - either through their immigration status or by claiming benefit while working.
If you want examples of London’s brilliance in licensing, you are a few mouse clicks away from the inconvenient truth.
Shamsul Haque is one example, London’s licensing authorities gave him a license despite a long list of convictions, including manslaughter, indecent exposure and of course lets not forget he was a paranoid schizophrenic.
Imran Raja, also a licensed London PH driver, jailed last year for deliberately running over a homeless man. The year before another licensed private hire driver, Russell Croft was jailed, for deliberately running over another pedestrian. Indeed at the time of writing a licensed minicab driver appears to have been arrested for exposing himself to two female passengers.
As for claims there is no illegal private hire ranking, how come out of 3372 convictions for touting between 2003 & 2007 over half of them were licensed minicab drivers? Ahh, you mean ranking aint touting? I guess that’s right.
I don't want to make this into a your scumbags are worse than our scumbags type of thing. The fact is, one scumbag, either in London or in the provinces is a scumbag too many.
Personally, I’d castrate them, using blunt gardening implements, on pay-per-view television – bizarre I know but I suppose its better than repeats of ‘Top Gear’.
You have read responses from people telling you there ain’t no substitute for modern technology and modern legislation. Let’s get to the technology bit first. People seem to be telling you cab drivers don't need knowledge tests they can use sat navs. Call me a luddite, but I did quick Google search today, amongst the more jovial stories are those of drivers going down streets that didn’t exist, lorries going down streets with height restrictions and people ending up in rivers. Indeed, I once went to Spain on a golfing trip, the sat nav announced our arrival at PGA Catalonia, we were however some 3 kilometres from the course and on a dual carriageway.
I know PGA Catalonia is a challenging course – but placing the first tee on a dual carriageway?
But perhaps those wanting sat navs should see a picture of Ariana Bardhaj, a beautiful four year old girl who was tragically killed when her poor father followed a sat nav instructions into a one way street.
Perhaps they could explain the benefits of sat nav to the family of 21-year-old Kay Gadsby, whose ambulance got lost whist she was being rushed to hospital because the sat nav in the ambulance was “broken”.
Perhaps they should consider what the Rail Accident Investigation Branch said after an ambulance was unable to find the site of a fatal train accident.
The truth is, unlike what you are being told, whilst sat navs are a useful tool, they are most certainly NOT a substitute for a good working knowledge of an area.
It’s a trust thing I guess. The passenger trusts the skill and judgement of the driver to get them to their destination by the cheapest possible route. As any cab driver worth his salt will tell, the cheapest ain’t always the shortest.
The above aside, can you tell me how one guy can advise you that modern technology should be embraced out here in the sticks, but not in London? If London is the leader here, why don't we drop the good old knowledge and bring in the Garmin?
London is also citied as being ‘a diverse ethnicity of drivers’, the guy that wrote that cant obviously get out into the provinces too much, it shows such ignorance of the provincial taxi trade it really should draw into question the rest of the written guff.
Going on through the technology, you seem to be getting blinded by some with this new fangled stuff like the internet and mobile phones.
Just why are people telling you the internet has suddenly changed everything? In terms of booking a private hire car with private hire driver, the booking must still be received by a private hire operator, and where the call is received is where all three should be licensed......where’s the confusion with that?
You ‘seem’ to be being told, no that’s wrong, because you ‘are’ being told London Hackney Carriage regulations are fine, whereas provincial taxi regulations are ancient history and need modernized immediately. But as any taxi anorak or Millward will tell you, some of London’s taxi laws actually precede provincial taxi laws, one London Hackney Carriage Act dates back to 1831.
The above being stated, whilst everyone seems to be running around shouting about laws needing changed, I see very little in the responses of some about what they want in place. Surely you cant have missed that point either?
The committee seem to be getting mixed up between the private-hire situation in Merseyside and that of the council formerly known as Berwick issuing Hackney carriage licenses like confetti. In my mind, they are two differing situations.
Primarily private hire law indicates that where the booking is received is the area where the operator should be licensed, the operator must then provide a vehicle and driver licensed by the same area. This has been proven repeatedly in court cases. Nobody is actually questioning the capabilities of the drivers licensed in Merseyside and specifically Sefton.
Sure, you have a union telling you that part of a Scottish Act should be encompassed into the 1976 Act requiring PHV’s to return to their area. It has been suggested there are no problems with Scottish law, therefore cross border bookings don't happen there. The evidence is where exactly? Has anyone bothered asking the Scottish Government or police? This raises the question of the current occurrences on Merseyside being illegal, because patently they aren’t.
Similarly with the situation with Milton Keynes where I understand operators have been licensing themselves in South Northants district. Did you know the initial start up cost for a private hire operator in Milton Keynes is more than double the price of neighbouring South Northants?
However, did you know that South Northants had a more arduous vehicle age policy than Milton Keynes?
Of course the situation with the area that was Berwick is different, Berwick licenses were issued much further afield, the public of Newcastle see vehicles sitting on their streets that have huge illuminated top-signs clearly stating the word ‘taxi’ as well as door-signs and hackney carriage plates. Whilst this alone does not suggest the vehicle is being operated illegally, the very fact these vehicles are sitting as hackneys in another area, leads to public confusion. The fact if they call a local private hire company and a vehicle which to all intent and purposes looks like a licensed hackney carriage turns up, further adds to the confusion.
Further to the above, you would have thought, once it became apparent to Berwick’s licensing department that they were effectively being used as a ‘flag of convenience’ they should perhaps be a tad worried about vehicles being used many miles away from their area. Instead, they sourced testing stations and lowered age limits, it was almost as if they were actively encouraging people to license themselves there.
I digress again.
I would like you to tell me how you picked the people to give oral evidence? You see, I have a feeling I am being ‘stitched up like a kipper’ to borrow one of those horrible ‘cockney’ expressions. I see the guy from Berwick telling you things, but I don't see the licensing department from Newcastle. Why is that, don't you like Geordies? – you might have a point there.
To be honest, the former licensing officer is about as popular in these here parts as the fat guy from the ‘Go Compare’ advert.
Indeed, the committee did show a real sense of comic irony when it actually sat the guy who was responsible for issuing the Berwick licenses right beside the guy from North Tyneside who received an awful lot of Berwick licenses. I must admit that was comic genius and whoever did that needs promoted!
As I mentioned above, did you know that Berwick council, as it was, actually dropped its age policy on taxis? Did you know they actually allowed out of area testing? Did you know that Paignton was further from Berwick than Surrey? Come to think of it, France is nearer to Surrey than Berwick! It’s almost as if Berwick council deliberately lowered their standards to encourage applications from other areas.
I feel that we’re almost friends again with me writing this letter. Whilst we’re doing the Q & A, you had a guy in front of you from Milton Keynes, he was the one with the beard, he told you he’d never allow Milton Keynes taxi numbers to be limited. Did you know that in the period following delimitation the now defunct London Taxi Finance repossessed more taxis from Milton Keynes than any other part of the UK? Do you know what repossession means? A ruined credit file, income support, another burden on the state?
What this does suggest, if I’m completely honest – is that leaving that guy in charge of Milton Keynes is like leaving King Herod in charge of a kindergarten.
The fact of the matter is that locals develop licensing policies over a period of time, age limits on vehicles, driver dress codes, knowledge tests, BTEC’s, NVQ’s, DSA driving tests, group 2 medicals etc all come into areas due to different reasons. Interestingly enough, almost none of those are currently a prerequisite of license in London, with all their high standards.
When we see these standards being eroded or bypassed we are naturally concerned, no local authority should be allowed to become a so called ‘flag of convenience’ and this was addressed by Judge Symons in the Berwick court case. The fact of the matter is, things like Berwick wouldn’t have happened if they had something as simple as a local knowledge test in place, if they insisted on vehicles being tested within their borough, if they didn’t negligently delegate so much power to the licensing officer.
Do you know how upset taxi drivers throughout the country are? Do you know they were on strike in Coventry for 8 days in February because there’s too many taxis and not enough rank space? Do you know there are demonstrations in Shropshire and Durham against the unitary authorities? Do you know there is strike action planned in Rossendale due to a council not listening to the cab trade? Do you care about any of this? Did you know 21 drivers in Sutton in Ashfield had to go on the dole last year for 28 days for parking offences?
Quite how badly has a person got to park to get a 28 day suspension?
Did you know the 21 still had to pay their finance agreements, insurance, license fees etc when they couldn’t earn a bean? Did you know the local authority delegated this power to suspend to a licensing officer? Did you know when parliament granted local authorities this type of power it was intended to be used in cases where the driver was deemed a serious threat to the public?
Did you know Cardiff re-limited taxi numbers on police advice? Did you know the same thing happened in Liverpool 20 years previous?
I’m often asked by some councillors why they should limit taxi numbers, they don't limit any other type of license, which is true. But they don't of course tell any other license holder how much they should charge, they don't insist on specific types of vehicles, they don't lay down such a rigorous regime for any license they issue.
Some people seem to be telling you the taxi service in a delimited area is better than the one in an area that limits numbers. All the evidence doesn’t actually point to this, you are being sold a pup and being gratuitously deceived.
Did you know the satisfaction and approval rating for the limited cab trade in Sunderland was 88%?
Did you know the regular taxi surveys in limited areas not only make sure there are adequate numbers of cabs but also take account of the public opinion of the cab trade? That they give the local authority hard and fast figures where they can work with the cab trade to improve the service?
The impression I’m left with, and I may be way off the mark here, but given the people you’ve questioned so far is you don't really care about these things.
As much of a surprise as this may be to you, I actually found myself smiling and nodding quietly in agreement with much of – but not all of the written response of the body called NATU.
This was certainly a surprise to me, I was poised to add them to my list - because you got to have a list.
You see it appears they agree with me. They appreciate taxis are a local matter as they serve the local community. They want the same as me – to weed out those who have scant regard for the job and to have a taxi service that meets the demands of passengers in terms of both service and safety.
The above aside, please don't hesitate to contact me if you would like some more common sense – I feel it has been sadly lacking in what you have considered so far – but please be advised, I don't do London.